- Airlines for America, which represents the largest US passenger and cargo airlines, released details of its proposed industry bailout on Monday.
- The group is asking for $US29 billion in grants and another $US25 billion in loans, in addition to tax relief from the government.
- Airlines have been all-but-decimated as the novel coronavirus spreads around the world, resulting in travel bans, cancelled flights, and plummeting revenue.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The largest airlines in the United States on Monday released details of a financial aid package designed to help shore up carriers’ balance sheets as the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc on the industry.
The roughly $US54 billion proposal by Airlines For America – a trade group comprised of passenger carriers like United, American, and Delta Air Lines as well as cargo carriers UPS and FedEx among others – comes as flight schedules around the world are pared in response to weak travel demand and in some cases outright bans by the United States and Europe.
The recommendations are in three parts: $US29 billion in grants ($US25 billion to passenger carriers, $US4 billion to cargo), $US25 billion in unsecured loans, and tax breaks.
“Each U.S. carrier is having direct and continuous conversations with their employees, and everyone understands the severity of the situation,” the group said in its working document. “The current economic environment is simply not sustainable, and it is compounded by the fact that the crisis does not appear to have an end in sight.”
Many airlines around the world have seen their market values drop by more than 50% from recent highs as flights are slashed. As of Monday afternoon, the virus had infected more than 178,000 people worldwide, with 4,093 of those in the United States.
Airline stocks got a slight boost from intraday lows Monday following the plea for assistance, but most remained in the red.
“While carriers would avoid some costs from not operating, there are substantial ongoing fixed costs,” Airlines for America said. “Also, since cash payments for expenses are typically due within 30 days, outflows tied to operations for the 30 days preceding the travel ban would come at a time when inflows are at their lowest point.”
There is precedent for government assistance. Following the terrorist attacks of September 2001 and the resulting closure of US airspace, congress passed a $US15 billion measure to support the aviation industry. Five billion of that money was in direct federal aid, and $US10 billion was in the form of loans.
The airlines’ proposal this time is much larger, and Wall Street analysts worried the money might once again go to the wrong places.
“We generally prefer the U.S. not interfere with airlines,” Jamie Baker, an analyst at JPMorgan, said in a note to clients Monday. “After all, post-9/11 ATSB loans were disproportionately extended to airlines that ultimately exited the business, suggesting (at least then) that the government was more adept at picking losers than winners.”
But with demand for flights likely slumping even more than it did two decades ago, bankruptcies could happen anyway.
“We previously stated US airline bankruptcies were unlikely and in the near-term that still remains the case,” analysts at Cowen said in a note to clients last week. “BUT if bookings do not improve in the next 3 months things could deteriorate quickly.”
There’s no word yet on what the White House or Congress may have in rebuttal for the airlines. Speaking to reporters Monday, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow seemed to dislike the term bailout.
“We don’t see the airlines failing, but if they get into a cash crunch we’re going to try to help them,” he said, adding that “lots of” airlines had been in touch seeking aid. “We’re in touch about their balance sheets and their cash flow,” Kudlow said.
It’s also not clear what concessions, if any, congress and the White House may ask of the industry in exchange for the financial aid package.
Read the full details of Airlines for America’s proposal here:
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